In this powerhouse season finale, the philosophical questions we face regarding time travel finally crystallize. What does it profit a man to change the world if he should lose himself? Barry's finally caught the self-admitted killer of Nora Allen, and has the chance he's been fighting for all season: to save his mother. But what will change if he does?
I was waiting on tenterhooks for the finale, but I have to admit, I was less than overwhelmed. There were a lot of amazing things about this episode. The Flash, much like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., really works well when it shifts from monster of the week to serialized storytelling. When Wells/Thawne starts talking to Barry, we're picking up right where we left off, and Barry's offered a devil's bargain–save his mom, but help Wells too. We then spent a LOT of time following Barry as he speaks to character after character agonizing over whether He Should Do It. And some of these scenes really felt stiff and forced, especially with Iris. Some, such as the one with Cisco, where he asked Barry if he were crazy for thinking of following Wells' suggestions, seemed far more natural and believable.
The stakes are huge. If Barry goes back and succeeds, the whole world might change. It's a huge responsibility, and Barry is aware of this, even if the first twenty minutes seems like agonizing angst.
The sub-plot, if it can really be described as one, was the relationship between Iris/Barry, Iris/Eddie, and Eddie and Himself. I think the three characters actually reached a level of emotional maturity; Iris and Eddie decided to make their own future instead of depend on others, Eddie questioned and decided to build his own future. Paralleling this, Barry and Iris both accepted that there was a reality going on here and whatever might have been is in another world where things might have been. Eddie's prodded to his own realizations by Martin Stein, who I think was bizarrely friendly and gregarious in this episode (wasn't he a lot more cranky before? Maybe his wife is really helping his mood.)
There's a tiny and almost nonsensical third plot about Ronnie coming back with Martin to help Flash and staying around to help out with Wells and Ronnie deciding to propose and Caitlin deciding to marry Ronnie, despite her kiss with Fake Barry a few episodes ago (sorry, Baitlin 'shippers...) their wedded bliss heralds doom because that's what happens on TV; I hear Caitlin will soon follow comic book canon and [spoiler alert] turn into supervillain Killer Frost. I think Caitlin has made some progress in independent character development this season and it was weird to see her just go SURE LET'S GET MARRIED! I feel like some scenes were left on the cutting room floor here.
The plots begin coming together well towards the end; Barry's decision to save his mother sets the stage for time travel using the particle accelerator. Cisco and Wells have a confrontation; Cisco reveals his visions of alternate universes; Wells ignores his tragic story of death and points out that this is an ability and Cisco is a metahuman. Which just proves Cisco's underlying point: Wells doesn't really care. He's inhumane. He tells both Barry and Cisco how proud he is of them, how much he loves them. Those feelings he talks about might be love, but they're dwarfed in Wells' heart by other types of feelings... ones that see humans as insignificant and only power and knowledge as vital. Even Wells' desire to get home is at least partially a strong desire to restore himself to consistent power.
They make a lot of hay about whether or not Barry can pass Mach 2, necessary for time jumping. When it comes down to it, possibly fueled by the agonizing angst of the first twenty minutes, Barry has no problem doing so. I loved the running scene in the accelerator! Barry heads straight back into time, in a scene which reminds me of nothing less than Dorothy flying through the tornado on her way to Oz: he sees, as Wells says, scenes from his own past, present and future (including a shot of Caitlin as Killer Frost?!) There's lots of other images, and I can't identify all of them. Barry's able to get to his mother, but during the fight we've seen again and again (now from a totally new angle) we see Barry from the Future telling Barry from the present not to intervene, to let his mother die. Barry does the hardest thing he has done all season, and listens to Wells stab Nora Allen. This was emotional enough, but when he gets back to the future and fights Wells, Wells is furious and goes apocalyptic. The future Wells wants won't be there because Barry didn't change the past back. I didn't like that Eddie had to sacrifice himself, and time travel always leaves me in huge loops - if Wells never existed, who trained Barry to become the Flash and got Eddie to the point of killing himself so Wells never existed?
I'm not sure if this paradox is the cause, but then a black hole opens over the city, and Barry has to somehow run fast enough to decouple its accretion disk before it destroys the planet and solar system, he jumps up debris to get to the black hole, and we...
ROLL TO CREDITS.
At this point I'm cursing and jumping and my husband is looking at me like WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED THERE?
Storytelling problems. I love this show, but the first twenty minutes should have been the first five minutes, and we would have gotten some extra time to explore what was happening with Ronnie and Caitlin and Cisco, and understand the time travel stuff. The first half was too slow, the second was too fast. I get there was a lot happening, but is it normal for the team to just go Oh yes, save your mother, let's let the solar system die?
The wedding. I think Caitlin's superpower is to metahumanely make wedding clothing appear out of thin air. Yes. It was kind of cute, especially Martin performing the ceremony, but the whole thing seemed really just out of nowhere.
The scene with Barry revealing himself as the Flash to his mom, telling his dying mother he and his Dad are okay in the future... if I were a dying parent, those would be things I would want to know, so I found the scene strangely very touching and showing a mature side to Barry... he'll hurt and he'll tremble and cry but he'll get up and do something meaningful. People bash Gustin, but I think this kind of scene proves he's right for the Flash.
Maybe all these talking with individuals and saying goodbye and agonizing and getting married is happening because whatever happens next season is going to really change the world? I wonder.
What's going to happen to Eddie? He was sucked into the wormhole. Into the future? Wells also mentioned Rip Hunter.
And another notable: the helmet that rolled out of the wormhole before Wells tried to leave? That looks like Jay Garrick's helmet, one of the other Flashes from the comics!
Cisco: "So long and thanks for all the fish." (I love Douglas Adams quotes!)
Wells: (to Cisco) "You can see through the vibrations of the Universe."
Can the awesomeness of the last 30 minutes make up for the agonizing slowness of the first 15/20? Oh, definitely, and if you can ignore trying to figure out the logic of how Barry is going to run around on a black hole's accretion disk, the final scenes are seriously electrifying and you can tell the writers are pushing these characters to the limit. I have a feeling Wells will be back. There has to be more for him.
Three and a half out of four time-travel black holes.